CoffeeBeer >> Double Shot Buzz >> Previous Coffee Columns >> 3 Cafes in Oakland
Since I flew down to Oakland, California last weekend for a few days I got to sample some of the local espresso cafes. On the first morning I quenched my early-morning caffeine craving at Cafe Di Bartolo, which is a very tall, thin cafe with a high exposed-wood ceiling, one white wall and the rest brick. The floor is brick, too, and the place is furnished with industrial chairs, simple yet coolly comfortable. Subtle jazz strains emanated from the speakers and a group of regulars filled the place. The cafe serves bagels and pastries, and for lunch they do pizza slices.
My double short cappuccino was served in a beautiful, if a bit large, deliciously rounded white cup. The foam was gorgeous, of a perfect texture with a handsome airbrushed brown ring around the edge. The shots were strong, vibrant, and roasty -- really not bad for what you might expect to get in Oakland. (Sorry, Oakland -- I'm just an arrogant snob from Seattle, okay?) Even the barista could easily have passed himself off as a hip young French barista, if he didn't seem such a serious young American barista: I believe it was the slick curly black hair, the starched white shirt, and the black thick-rimmed glasses. Yes, I could be in Paris easily, if only they offered sandwiches Camembert instead of bagels and pizza slices.
I made a brief stop on another morning at Pasqua Coffee in downtown Oakland, on 20th Street at Webster across from the landmark Kaiser building. Pasqua started in 1983 in San Francisco but now has stores all over the Bay Area. At this tiny downtown location, sort of a corporate-exec to-go espresso bar, there are three tiny tables inside and, oddly enough, no seating outside on the wide sidewalk under the cherry trees. Such a shame, because the cherry blossoms are lovely this time of year. My double short cappuccino was reasonably okay, but it's such a pity it was served in a styrofoam cup. Come on, folks! If you're going to use disposable cups only, you should be using paper, not styrofoam. Nobody should be forced to drink an espresso from a styrofoam cup, no matter what sort of sins have been committed. Oh, well; the scones were pretty good, anyway.
The original Peet's Coffee opened in Berkeley in 1966; at the moment there are 40 locations around the country, mostly in the Bay Area. The one I stopped at on Lakeshore Avenue is a tiny place with only four seats at a window counter and a bench on the side. My macchiato was decent enough, on the edge of being over-roasted like dark toast. Yes, Peet's is veering dangerously close to Starbucks' burnt beans. In fact, there's a Starbucks just a block away -- next to Noah's Bagels, naturally.Peet's also sells scones, muffins, cookies, and the usual assortment of pastries. I can't say anything for the atmosphere -- in fact I can't say anything about the atmosphere because there's virtually none, except for the low-hanging lamps and ceiling fans and the fact that everything is dark brown -- a little on the over-roasted side, you could say. Yes, I imagine on a blustery winter day this place would be nice and toasty. (Sorry, I had to...)
There's an entertaining view out the window of the smokers on the al fresco benches. I guess according to California law it's still legal to smoke outside, although I imagine it's only a matter of time before smoking will be outlawed everywhere in California. Perhaps the only exception will be on isolated platforms erected on thin towers projecting 2,000 feet up into the sky. Yes, I can see it now: each tower will have elevator access, and there will be one located every four or five blocks. Eventually, as those remaining smokers in California -- the ones who haven't quit, moved to other states, or emigrated to Europe -- begin vanishing from the urban landscape of the sidewalks below, nonsmokers in search of more truly bohemian and intellectually inspiring hangouts will join the smokers on their aeries, and taverns and cocktail lounges will follow suit. And soon there will be an entirely separate culture suspended high in the air, where smokers and nonsmokers alike are welcome but acrophobes are discouraged.
Wow! All this from watching the crosswalk outside, not to mention the transfer of smokers' lights from one person to another...
Speaking of smokers I'm reminded of an e-mail exchange from two years ago with one of my Bay Area friends:I'm not all that interested in the tobacco company lawsuits, but I couldn't help noticing this little article in this morning's Seattle Times:
...and speaking of weekend flights, here's an e-mail exchange with my other Bay Area friend about so-called "frills":Have you heard that, as a consequence of the Americans with Disabilities Act, airlines will be required to designate at least three rows as a "no-peanut zone" if a passenger notifies them of a peanut allergy in advance of a flight? How long must we wait until we have no-perfume and no-obnoxious-conversation zones? Yes, I read that. Since many airlines have given up the sometimes lifesaving snack of peanuts in favor of those damn "lite" pretzel sticks or cheese bits, I now book all my short flights in living fear that there will be nothing nutritious served and I'll have to rely on a Bloody Mary to quell those raging hunger pangs which develop after waiting for the typically delayed flight to finally board...